HESTIA , the Greek goddess of the domestic and communal hearth, is closely allied to the Roman goddess Vesta. Hestia, the eldest child of Kronos and Rhea, was swallowed by her father at birth, and was the last to emerge from the patriarchal "womb" when Zeus liberated his siblings. The motif of first and last recurs frequently in the traditions associated with her. She receives the first and last libation offered at every feast, no matter what divinity is being honored. Although she was an original member of the Olympian Twelve, there is a tradition that at some point she yielded her place to Dionysos—a tradition but, typically, no story. Indeed, there are almost no stories about this least anthropomorphic of the major Greek divinities.
Hestia's name also served as a common noun designating the hearth and its fire; most essentially, she was the fire at the center of Olympus, of the city-state, the family home, and the soul. She was worshiped not at specially designated temples but at the family hearth; in the Classical period altars originally dedicated to her were rededicated to Zeus Ephestios ("Zeus of the hearth"). Her tranquillity and apparent passivity were understood to be inherent to her character and not externally imposed; her virginity was deliberately chosen. Hestia is represented as shunning all adventure or entanglement. Though she had no children of her own, she bestowed her dispassionate and nondiscriminating motherly love on all alike, but especially on motherless orphans. Though Vesta in Rome was attended by virgins chosen before they were six, the Greek goddess's attendants were most typically elderly women who had once been married. Hestia represented the stability and continuity of communal and familial existence; a new colony was established by bringing a log from the mother city's hearth, a new home by lighting a log brought from the daughter's family hearth.
Hestia was often paired with Hermes: She always selfsame, he a shapeshifter; she homebound, he a wayfarer; she ultimately trustworthy, he a trickster. That she was replaced on Olympus by Dionysos suggests the significance of their complementation: Life in his realm had meaning at the extreme, whereas life in hers had meaning at the center. Hestia embodied the Greek recognition of the sanctity to be found in the most ordinary and familiar things, those too easily ignored, too readily devalued.
The most important classical sources are Hesiod's Theogony and the Homeric hymns to Hestia and Aphrodite. The most extended modern scholarly discussion is in Lewis R. Farnell's The Cults of the Greek States, vol. 2 (1896; New Rochelle, N.Y., 1977). An interesting psychological exploration by Barbara Kirksey, "Hestia: A Background of Psychological Focusing," can be found in Facing the Gods, edited by James Hillman (Irving, Tex., 1980).
Comoth, Katharina. Hestia. Heidelberg, 1998.
Detienne, Marcel. "La cité en son autonomie. Autour d'Hestia." Quaderni di Storia 11 (1985): 59–78.
Merkelbach, Rheinold. "Der Kult der Hestia im Prytaneion der griechischen Städte." Zeitschrift f. Papyrologie u. Epigraphik 37 (1980): 77–92. Reprinted in Hestia und Erigone. Vorträge und Aufsätze. Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1996, pp. 52–66.
North, Helen F. "Hestia and Vesta: Non-identical Twins." In New Light from Ancient Cosa. Classical Mediterranean Studies in Honor of Cleo Rickman Fitch, edited by Norma Wynick Goldman, pp. 179–188. New York, 2001.
Pötscher, Walter. "Hestia und Vesta; Eine Strukturanalyse." In Satura grammatica in honorem Franscisci Rodríguez Adrados, vol. 2, pp. 743–762. Madrid, 1987.
Christine Downing (1987)